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Growers learn with new rice hybrid

High-yield producer has lodging and milling yield problems Early reports from the combine indicate that XL6, the rice hybrid from RiceTec, is again putting a lot of grain into hoppers. But lodging and milling yields have been a problem for some producers.

No doubt, RiceTec's hybrid rice is a different approach to rice production. It requires less that half the usual seeding and nitrogen rates that conventional varieties require, and it has an excellent disease package. It's early-maturing, with many growers reporting significant water and fuel savings.

But the most unusual characteristic is the hybrid's yielding prowess. University of Arkansas plant pathologist Rick Cartwright said he's seen yields range from 180 to 220 bushels per acre, dry, so far this season. "There have been a few clunkers in the 160s, but typically it's been averaging around 200 bushels on the fields that have been managed properly."

XL6's lower milling yield as well as its higher lodging potential were known characteristics of the variety when growers planted them, noted Cartwright. In fact, RiceTec's reduced nitrogen rate program is designed to lessen the potential for lodging. The company is also working with new varieties that can improve on those characteristics.

Cartwright has heard reports of XL6 lodging in some fields, "but most of that has been recently. If you went with 60 to 70 units of nitrogen total, the rice, at least early, was standing up okay. But later into September, where we got a little bit of rain, cooler temperatures, it's fallen. But I haven't seen that many. Usually, it's just a part of a field."

Milling yields have been variable, Cartwright added. "We have had some samples on some fields of anywhere from 28 to 52 pounds of head rice. Quite a few were in the upper 30s to low 40s. That's pretty low. But head rice yields in northeast Arkansas on XL6 are generally in the upper 40s, low 50s. That's acceptable if you can get 200 to 220 bushels, dry, out of it."

Overall, Cartwright is impressed with the technology. "It's expensive seed, obviously. But it takes you to a new plateau on yield potential. If that's the game we're going to stay in, with low prices trapping growers into making higher and higher yields, it's got a place.

"You're talking about 70 units of nitrogen producing 210 to 220 dry bushels of rice. That's less than half the nitrogen we usually use on a regular rice variety, and we're producing more rice per unit area. My impression is that the yield potential, even with XL6, has not been realized. I think there's even another level to XL6 that we're not able to attain because of the lodging potential."

Cartwright is also impressed with XL6's disease package. "At these nitrogen rates, you don't have any real disease problems."

Following are some reports from growers on the hybrid. RiceTec will compile a complete set of data on how XL6 performed in 2000 within a few weeks.

Keiser, Ark., rice producer Robert Walker said his XL6 yields in 2000 "have done great." He cut 149 bushels, green, on a field of Drew, while two fields of XL6 did 193 bushels and 201 bushels, green.

"I haven't gotten everything back on the milling yields, yet. I know they're going to be down some. The XL6 has not been one of the better millers to begin with. We knew that when we planted it. But if you're increasing your production, you can offset that. We're looking at 40- to 45-bushel differences in yield, dry."

As for next year, Walker says, "If the milling yields hold up where it's economical, I will plant more."

On a recent day, rice producer Bryan Morey of Wynne, Ark., watched as a combine harvested an XL6 field planted in a nitrogen demonstration. "I know I'll make it part of my regular program," the producer said. "There are a lot of pluses. It's early-maturing and yields well. But you see how it's laying. We had a rain and some pretty good winds blowing and some of it's flat."

Morey said he liked the hybrid's disease package, but noted that its milling yield can be inconsistent. "But last year, it milled 56."

Because of the hybrid's higher seed costs, Morey figures that it needs to consistently produce 20 bushels more than his conventional rice varieties to make it pay. Yields aren't in yet for the 2000 crop, but last year his XL6 averaged 203 bushels on one field, just about what he needed.

Morey, who also plants Cocodrie, Wells, Drew, Cypress and 13 acres of Clearfield rice, noted, "The XL6 is not for everybody. I grow 1,400 to 1,800 acres of rice every year. It fits for my program. I could use up to 200 acres. The only thing that really worries me is the lodging."

The RiceTec seed that Morey planted this year "is the healthiest stuff you ever saw," the producer added. "If they sell you 40 pounds of seed in a bag, you get your money's worth. You can almost feel the difference between RiceTec seed and other rice seed. It's big. They treat it. It comes up. They do a good job with their seed."

Lodging was a big problem for XL6 grower Walter Carle in Stuttgart, Ark. "The field yields have been pretty good. But the big disappointment has been the stalk. A lot of it just started going down, falling over without any wind or anything."

Carle's XL6 cut 181 bushel per acre, green, off a 100-acre field and a 53-acre field cut 196 bushels. Carle said a field of LaGrue cut about 183 bushels. In 1999, Carle had a 20-acre test plot of XL6 which cut 206 bushels per acre.

"One of the benefits for the XL6 was the disease package," he said. "We didn't have to put out any fungicides on it and we did on the LaGrue."

Carle says he's been pleased with the results of his conventional varieties in 2000 and is hesitant about planting the hybrid in 2001. "Cocodrie and Wells have done exceptionally well and the milling yields are considerably better. "

Lafe, Ark., producer Rick Davidson said his two fields of XL6 cut 208 bushels, green, and 198, green. Davidson, who hadn't gotten his milling data back yet, said, "It amazes me the way it yields. On the top side of the field where we got a perfect stand, it cut rice. But on the lower ends of the fields, we didn't have the stands, it was a lot lower."

Davidson said his yield monitor jumped to as high as 300 bushels an acre on the best rice in the field. "If we could have everything uniform over the field, it could be unbelievable. But it seems like we just can't get it to work like we'd like it to."

Davidson had no lodging problems with the hybrid.

A large supply of RiceTec hybrid seed will be available for 2001, according to the company's national sales manager, Jim Thompson. At the time of this writing, RiceTec was deciding how to service, market and distribute the hybrid seed. That announcement is expected soon.

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